BALTIMORE — A top American bishop said Tuesday the Roman Catholic Church will not comply with the Obama administration requirement that most employers provide health insurance that covers birth control for free.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said church leaders are open to working toward a resolution with federal officials, but will press ahead with challenges to the mandate in legislatures and in court.
"The only thing we're certainly not prepared to do is give in. We're not violating our consciences," Cardinal Dolan told reporters at a national bishops' meeting. "I would say no door is closed except for the door to capitulation."
The bishops have been fighting the regulation since it was announced by President Obama early this year. Houses of worship are exempt, but religiously affiliated hospitals, charities and colleges are not.
Mr. Obama promised to change the requirement so that insurance companies, not religiously affiliated employers, would pay for the coverage. But the Department of Health and Human Services has yet to do so formally.
In addition, the bishops, Catholic hospitals and some other religious leaders generally supportive of Mr. Obama's health care overhaul have said his new proposal appears to be unworkable because so many institutions self-insure and because insurance companies would almost certainly pass on the cost of the "free" birth control anyway.
Dozens of Catholic dioceses and charities have sued over the mandate, along with colleges, including the University of Notre Dame. The bishops have made the issue the centerpiece of a national campaign on preserving religious freedom, which they consider to be under assault on several fronts from an increasingly secular culture.
It's unclear what, if any, influence the bishops have with the administration after having spoken out sharply during the election, though they aimed their criticisms at policies, not the re-election candidate himself.
According to exit polls, Mr. Obama won the overall Catholic vote, 50 percent to 48 percent, but with huge splits along ethnic lines. White Catholics supported Republican Mitt Romney, 59 percent to 40 percent, while Hispanic Catholics went for Mr. Obama, 75 percent to 21 percent.
A White House spokesman did not immediately comment.
Cardinal Dolan would not say whether bishops would disobey the mandate if the lawsuits fail or church leaders can't resolve their disagreements with Health and Human Services.
"It's still not doomsday yet," he said.
Separately, the bishops voted to shelve a statement on the economy that they had been working on for months.
The bishops voted overwhelmingly to draft the document last June, after objecting to social services cuts in the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice presidential nominee. This statement was intended as a brief message of concern and encouragement but the bishops meeting in Baltimore couldn't agree on the wording or emphasis and rejected the document.
Also, the bishops endorsed the effort by the Archdiocese of New York to seek sainthood for Dorothy Day, a social activist and writer who converted to Catholicism as an adult and founded the Catholic Worker Movement.